When debating any idea about God, my go-to source is Jesus, and the earliest, most reliable existing source documenting His life and teachings are the biblical Gospels, all of which are generally agreed to be First Century accounts – written shortly after the events had happened and no doubt read by many eyewitnesses of the events themselves.
You can doubt the veracity of the Gospels, or even the New Testament for that matter. If so, that’s your choice. But I know that, comparatively speaking, the Bible is pretty much the most well-documented piece of ancient literature out there, with literally thousands of manuscripts or copies of manuscripts – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – from which to choose and compare and verify, not to mention the numerous versions that have been translated. In fact, it was a Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) from which Jesus and His followers most often quoted.
We also have many confirmed incidental details found in the Gospels and New Testament letters – people, places, even nautical practices and legal proceedings – all lending great confidence that the New Testament collection is a historically accurate and reliable source for the events and teachings within.
So I have no problem accepting the reliability of the Bible, or the Gospels in particular. The Jesus I know is the Jesus of the Bible… what other Jesus is there? And the Jesus of the Bible purports to be the very Son of God Himself. He claimed that He never spoke or acted on His own, but spoke and acted only as instructed by the Father. So much so that to see Jesus was to see God.
This causes me to hold very definite beliefs whenever I discuss the nature of God, or free will, or Heaven, or any other theological question. For example, Jesus strenuously insisted in the reality of Hell (Gehenna). No matter how you choose to define this place, Jesus insisted on its reality, referred to it numerous times, and figuratively declared that we ought to take extraordinary measures to avoid going there, it’s that bad. For this reason, it really doesn’t matter if some find Hell to be morally or theologically offensive. To Jesus it was reality, and so it is to me.
When it comes to freedom of choice, the Bible is one long document exhorting us to “choose” from beginning to end – from Adam and Eve (who chose wrongly) to Israel – “Choose ye this day whom you will serve” – to Jesus – “Repent!” Jesus was repeatedly amazed and / or frustrated by people’s choice to believe or disbelieve, and He harshly condemned those who chose not to believe or repent. So theological arguments against free will – no matter how well intentioned or well thought out – conflict with the teachings and perspective of Jesus.
The same could be said regarding other religions or other “gospels.” It is recorded that Jesus identified Himself as the only way to the Father and that no one knows the Father except the Son (Jesus). His closest apostles testified that salvation is found in no other person or name than Jesus. Paul bluntly told the enlightened members of the Areopagus that all their temples and idols were false, and that all their philosophies fell short of the truth found only in Jesus Christ.
So here’s my point: We know God only by what He has revealed… not by our own cleverness or comprehension, but by God’s choice to reveal some aspects of the Big Picture. His method of doing this was not arbitrary or disordered. From Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Israel, to the Messiah, to the Church that bears His name, it’s all there, laid out and in order.
It’s not OK to take a little bit of Jesus, a little Bible, a little eastern mysticism, a little philosophy and a dash of personal opinion, and from all that conjure up a god other than the one known and proclaimed by Jesus. If you’re going to do that, you should just leave Jesus out of it altogether. He left no room for alternative philosophies.
It would be quite illogical to claim Jesus as a great teacher or “believe” in Him for some things, only to insist that He was mistaken about Hell and free will, or His claim to be the only Way, or His insistence on a literal Satan. Why believe anything He said if He didn’t even know who He was?
In the final analysis, saving faith comes not to the clever philosopher or theologian, but to anyone who is willing to believe Jesus – to confess, trust in, and rely on Him and His word. Really, it’s either Jesus, or not.